Along with fine motor activities, hand strengthening activities are and important part of emergent writing, too. Squeezing and kneading playdough is a simple but effective hand strengthening activity for children who are struggling to develop strength in the muscles needed for writing and other fine motor life skills.
I have a few students in my preschool class this year who write very, very lightly. So lightly, in fact, that it is difficult to see their writing at all. They are also the same students who tend to scribble more than draw, despite that fact they are four years old. They both also struggle with making an “x” on a paper, and they both have an immature pencil grip. Now, we spend a lot of time in preschool developing those fine motor muscles that are supposed to ease the difficulty of writing, but these two children continue to struggle. They continue to struggle, because not only do they lack the fine motor skills needed for writing, but they also lack muscle strength.
Developing fine motor skills to promote writing skills works by developing muscle memory. For example, every time a child picks up a water bead to transfer into another container, they are developing muscle memory through practice. The pincher grasp used to pick up something very small, like a water bead, a pea or a thread from the carpet is the same pincher grasp used when holding a pencil using the tripod or quadruped grasps. Those are the two grasps preferred by occupational therapists, so learning how to hold a pencil will come more naturally and easily if that pincher grasp has already been developed and muscle memory is already established.
But, a child can have a mature pencil grasp and still write very lightly and struggle to make basic symbols like closed circles and x’s. This is where hand strengthening activities come into play.
Easy Hand Strengthening Activity
To help strengthen the hand and wrist muscles of my preschoolers who write so very lightly, we play with playdough. But, I don’t offer many tools at first. For this hand strengthening activity, I gave each preschooler twp very different shaped of blue playdough and directed them to squeeze and knead the two pieces together until they could only see one color.
Some preschoolers worked on small pieces of playdough at a time, making golf ball sized balls before smooshing them all together once the colors were thoroughly mixed. Other students pushed and kneaded the two colros as one whole piece of playdough. Either technique is ok, and both are effective in developing hand strength.